“And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel: from Judah 12,000 from Reuben 12,000 from Gad 12,000 from Asher 12,000 from Naphtali 12,000 from Manasseh 12,000 from Simeon 12,000 from Levi 12,000 from Issachar 12,000 from Zebulun 12,000 from Joseph 12,000 from Benjamin 12,000.” Revelation 7:4-8
This critical passage reinforces the biblical truth that God is not through with the nation of Israel (see Romans 9–11). Though Israel failed in its mission to be a witness nation that will not be the case in the future. From the Jewish people will come the greatest missionary force the world has ever known.
That there were 12,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel speaks of God’s elective purpose. Mere random human choice would not come up with such an even division. While the tribal records were lost when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70, God knows who belongs to each tribe.
The question has also been raised whether the “12,000” in each tribe means literally 12,000. There seems to be indication that more than 12,000 from each tribe actually will be saved. The point of this Scripture is that in any event 12,000 in each tribe are made secure. There will be other Israelites saved besides these 144,000, but many of these will die martyrs’ deaths and give up their lives for their faith. The 144,000 are those who are delivered from their persecutors and brought safely through this terrible time of tribulation. In chapter 14 they are seen triumphant at the end of the tribulation when Christ returns.
The fact that the twelve tribes of Israel are singled out for special reference in the tribulation time is evidence that the term “Israel” as used in the Bible is invariably a reference to the descendants of Jacob who was first given the name Israel. The prevalent idea that the church is the true Israel is not sustained by any explicit reference in the Bible, and the word Israel is never used of Gentiles and refers only to those who are racially descendants of Israel or Jacob.